Liberal gun owners face dilemma in 2020 field

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In this Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, photo, Kat Ellsworth of Chicago, poses for a portrait with five of the seven guns she owns at the Caliber Tactical Gun Range in Waukegan, Ill. Ellsworth was firmly against firearms and favored gun-control until just a few years ago when she went with a friend to a gun range and discovered a love for firearms and shooting. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Like many liberals, Lara Smith considers herself a feminist, favors abortion rights and believes the nation’s immigration policies under the Trump administration have just been “vile.”

But when it comes to guns, Smith sounds more like a conservative: She opposes reviving the nation's assault weapons ban, enacting red-flag laws or creating a registry of firearms. The 48-year-old California lawyer owns a cache of firearms, from pistols to rifles such as the AR-15.

Smith and liberal gun owners like her face a quandary as voting in the Democratic primary intensifies with Super Tuesday next week. They are nervous about some of the gun control measures the Democratic candidates are pushing and are unsure who to trust on this issue.

“You’re alienating a huge part of your constituency,” Smith says of the Democratic field’s gun proposals. “You have a huge constituency that is looking for something different and when you are talking about restricting a right which is so different than everything else you talk about, you are being anti-liberal.”

Gun owners have long been seen as a solidly Republican voting bloc, but there are millions of Democrats who own firearms, too.

Many of them are feeling increasingly disillusioned by their party as it lurches toward the left on the Second Amendment, but they're also wary of President Donald Trump for a variety of reasons: his conservative leanings but a track record in office that has led to several gun restrictions, such as the banning of bump stocks.

An estimated 23 percent of Democrats nationally lived in households with guns in 2018, according to the General Social Survey, which is conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. And roughly 20 percent of gun owners — about 12 million people — identify as liberal, according to results from survey between 2014 and 2018. More than a third describe themselves as moderates while just under 45 percent call themselves conservatives.

The liberals who are opposed to gun control are at odds with a broader trend among Democrats when it comes to tougher firearms restrictions. According to polling by Gallup last year, 88 percent of Democrats said laws governing firearm sales should be made more strict, up from 77 percent in 2015 and 63 percent in 2010.